Once again, the grid was reduced for this race, with only 12 starters entered - McLaren's milky, Sauber's Sora, Lotus' Ploddy and STR's thisisaverylongname were all missing in action. Williams and Ferrari were back to full strength with the return of zdievo and Nightkid. In a marketing gimmick with team sponsors, STR's Amril raced under the moniker "Bringin sexy back", though time would tell if those other boys knew how to act...
Dry conditions greeted the field this week, and with dry weather predicted for the race it was back to a shootout without compromised set ups. McLaren's sonofjorel went straight to the top of the time sheets with an early 1:36.275. VTEC looked to be his only competition in the Scuderia after the first set of hot laps, with an impressive 1:37.951.
Williams' zdievo struggled for grip early, running wide through turn 2 on consecutive laps, whilst his team mate was able to jump VTEC to take P2 with a 1:37.425. Ferrari locked out the second row, Mercedes would have been pleased with the qualifying effort of Toggsie in P5 and Sauber's PessimistPrime split the Mercedes drivers in P6. Amril managed P8 before rceiving a 10 grid place penalty late in the session, dropping him to the back of the grid for the race start. RBR's Nobody again reported steering problems but managed to set a time within 5 hundredths of a second of his team mate.
As we've become accustomed so far this season, lap 1 provided plenty of drama. rogue eclipse managed to jump sonofjorel at the start and led for the first time in his Atomic GP2 career until the McLaren driver reclaimed his rightful position at turn 6.
Further down the order, Ferrari's Nightkid ran wide at turn 2, whilst RBR's Fredzfrog understeered into turn 3, bounced off the Lotus of EffSea and corrected into the Williams of zdievo before ending up in the wall. The Williams came off the worse with a damaged front wing forcing an early stop, although the stewards awarded a penalty to Fredz.
At turn 6, Toggsie outbraked himself trying to take the inside line and punted STR's Amril off track, bringing another penalty from the stewards. STR were clearly disappointed after Amril's promising start. The Mercedes rookie was quick to issue a mea culpa after the race - "Big sorry to Amril. Thought I had room but he closed the door quickly and I couldn't stop". The drama wouldn't end there for the WCC leaders, as round 2 winner NightFire's engine let go down the back straight.
By the end of lap 2, Ferrari's VTEC had moved up into P2 and PessimistPrime had his Sauber into P4. Nightkid had fought his way back through the field and was soon harrassing the back of the Sauber. Whilst sonofjorel disappeared into the distance, VTEC and rogue had a close battle for P2, and PessimistPrime fought with Nightkid for P4. Fredz was in the pits again on lap 3 for a fresh set of prime tyres after struggling for grip after serving his penalty. Nightkid eventually passed Prime, who then had to hold off a charging Amril into the first pit stops. Lap 12 saw the action begin, rogue managed to undecut VTEC to retake P2 whilst Nightkid, Prime and Amril changed up places through the stops.
A torrid day got worse on lap 15 for zdievo, as his FW34 gave up the ghost on lap 15. "I struggled for consistency but did manage to get some decent lap times on old primes, managed a third of a lap after my stop before the car died". The young driver remained up beat despite the set back "Even with the DNF, learned a lot, and think I improved a fair bit from my debut in Melbourne".
The bad luck continued for Mercedes as Toggsie began experiencing technical difficulties whilst battling RBR's Nobody for position. The problems led to a second penalty, this time for illegal blocking, the rookie summed up his day succinctly after the race - "Disappointing...". Gremlins also struck Amril on lap 15, leading him to retire on lap 19. It was a shame for the STR driver after he had been making solid progress and looked set for a strong midfield finish.
The closing stages of the race were some of the most exciting we have seen so far this season. VTEC retook P2 from rogue on lap 21, and the Williams driver outbraked himself attempting his own pass on lap 22. But it was in the midfield that the real battle was taking place. Effsea made a second pitstop from P5 on lap 23 after getting ahead of Prime. He rejoined behind Prime, Nobody and Fredz and with fresh rubber and some fuel to burn, set off to chase them down "With 5+ laps of excess fuel in the tank I came out of pitlane, turned the fuel mixture up to rich and spent the next 6 laps trying to close the 8 second gap they'd put on me".
Meanwhile, Nobody had caught Prime and the two raced wheel to wheel for a number of laps before the RBR driver made the pass stick on lap 26, having overshot on the final hairpin on lap 25. By this time, EffSea had caught the pair - "Nobody finally made a clean pass and was clearly lapping faster than me, so I couldn't really catch him, and I had to defend P6 for the last lap. That got really intense" said Prime. On the last lap Effing had closed to within a second in the DRS zone on the back straight and closed on the run into the penultimate corner. "Caught up but I couldn't get around him before the hairpin so I had to back off. I got a bit eager and accelrated out the hairpin a bit hard and flicked the back end out a bit which pretty much killed any hope I had of making the bass before the finish line". It was an enthralling final stanza and a classic finish, with the three cars within a second of each other at the end.
A strong team performance from Ferrari with P2 and P4 for VTEC and Nightkid respectively sees the Scuderia close the gap to McLaren and Mercedes in the WCC. Williams were also delighted with their first GP2 podium, the second of rogue eclipse's GP2 career. But in the end, it was the maiden victory for McLaren's sonofjorel with a flawless performance after working his way up the podium at previous races. "Delighted to get my first win and it's a shame NightFire couldn't make it to the finish as I would have liked to get one back on him out on track", perhaps a developing rivalry?
We'll find out next week as the GP2 circus heads to the desert sands for the Grand Prix of Bahrain and round 4 of the Atomic GP2 Championship.
|8||15||iM Amril intel||Toro Rosso||01:41.488||0|
|5||11||nobody813||Red Bull||+1 lap||27||01:41.021||9||10|
|7||7||Effing Sea||Lotus||+1 lap||27||01:40.081||10||6|
|8||14||Fredzfrog||Red Bull||+1 lap||27||01:42.157||8||4|
|DNF||15||iM Amril intel||Toro Rosso||+28 laps||0||01:42.336||12||0|